In His Own Words: An Interview with Maulana Karenga

Beliefnet talks to the founder of the holiday, Dr. Maulana Karenga, about its origins, its aim and its future.

 

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Religion as an organized body of doctrine, practices and structures differs from spirituality. Spirituality is intense rational and emotional appreciation of and commitment to the Transcendent and the Ultimate. This can be approached in various ways, theologically, ethically or a combination of both. Kwanzaa self-consciously avoids theological emphasis, for it is this emphasis that reveals and cultivates differences. What Kwanzaa does stress is the ethical which brings forth the best of African and human thought and practice and offers a basis of common ground. So when Kwanzaa draws on ancient Egyptian teachings from the Husia or teachings of the Yoruba from the Odu Ifa, it is not to teach theology but to urge that we speak truth, do justice, honor our elders and ancestors, cherish and challenge our children, care for the poor and vulnerable among us, have a rightful relationship with the environment, constantly resist evil and always raise up and pursue the good. This ethical focus finds common ground in all religious or spiritual traditions I know. So why would someone be threatened by the stress on bringing and doing good in and for the world?

Also, as a celebration of family, community and culture, Kwanzaa is a time of ingathering of the people to reaffirm the bonds between them; a time of special reverence for the Creator, in thanks and respect for the blessings, bountifulness and beauty of creation; a time of commemoration of the past in pursuit of its lessons and in honor of its models of excellence, our ancestors; a time of recommitment to our highest cultural ideals in our ongoing efforts to be the best of what it means to be both African and human in the fullest sense; and a time for the celebration of the Good, the good of life and indeed, of existence, the good of the awesome and the ordinary, in a word, the good of the divine, the social and the natural. Who would find fault with these ethical practices?

Finally, Kwanzaa brings a cultural message which speaks to the best of what it means to be both African and human in its stress on four pillars of African ethics: the dignity and rights of the human person, the well-being and flourishing of family and community, the integrity and value of the environment, and the reciprocal solidarity and cooperation for mutual benefit of humanity. All these above emphases are ethical and at one level spiritual, but belong to no particular religion. And it is their inclusive character that allows people of good will to embrace them as essential elements of common ground for the common good.

Continued on page 3: Kwanzaa is celebrated by over 28 million people throughout the world... »

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